KANSAS CITY, MO - OCTOBER 7: Eric Bieniemy, offensive coordinator with the Kansas City Chiefs, shouted at a Jacksonville Jaguars player in anger as words were exchanged between the two teams in the Chiefs' 30-14 win in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images)

NFL Head Coach Hiring and Pathways in the Rooney Rule Era

What are the similarities and differences for coaches of Color and White coaches?

The NFL’s Rooney Rule, established in 2003, has required franchises to interview candidates of Color for senior football operations and head coaching positions. The purpose of this report is to describe coach hiring and firing patterns and pipelines leading to head coaching and to expand our original analyses to include seasons from the start of the Rooney Rule. The data in this study indicated differences in pipelines and pathways, experiences, and opportunities. The analyses provided details to the racial/ethnic composition of the 18 seasons since the Rooney Rule was implemented and answered the question posed above.

The first figure below shows the big picture of total NFL head coaches broken down by race for every season from 2002-03 through 2019-20. The figures that follow show factors that contribute or offer context to this big picture. Several factors involve offensive and defensive coordinator positions, which head coaches often hold before and after their head coach stints. Other factors include football playing experience, age when hired, franchise hiring histories, and new hire data.

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Racial Breakdown of NFL Head Coaches – 2002-03 to 2019-20


These figures show snapshot comparisons of newly-hired NFL head coaches broken down by race in 2002-03 vs. 2019-20.


NFL Head Coach Pathways by Race – Racial Breakdown of New Hires by Former Position

These figures display the last job held before being hired as an NFL head coach between 2002 and 2020.

African American head coaches (21) were most commonly NFL defensive coordinators (9), followed by offensive coordinators (4), head coach of another team (3), and Linebackers coach (2).

White head coaches (92) were most often offensive coordinators (35), followed by defensive coordinators (20), NFL coaches at other teams (14), and college head coaches (10).

Immediate Previously Held Position of Incoming Head Coaches by Race/Ethnicity for 2002-03 – 2019-20
Race/Ethnicity
Prior Position African American Latino White Total
College HC 0 0 10 10
DB Coach 1 0 2 3
DC 9 1 20 30
DL Coach 0 0 1 1
HC 3 1 14 18
LB Coach 2 0 0 2
NFL Other 0 0 1 1
OC 4 0 35 39
OL Coach 0 0 3 3
Non-Coaching 1 0 1 2
Other HC 0 0 1 1
QB Coach 1 0 3 4
Retired 0 0 1 1
Total 21 2 92 115

Note. Unless otherwise specified coaching positions are in the National Football League; HC = Head Coach; DB = Defensive Back; DC = Defensive Coordinator; DL = Defensive Line; LB = Linebacker; NFL = National Football League; OC = Offensive Coordinator; OL = Offensive Line; Other HC = Head Coach in another league; QB = Quarterback.


Offensive Coordinators – The Common Pathway

This figure shows the role held by NFL offensive coordinators immediately prior to their new hire.

Immediate Previously Held Position of Incoming Offensive Coordinators by Race/Ethnicity for 2002-03 – 2019-20
Race/Ethnicity
Prior Position African American Latino Chinese American White Total
College HC 0 0 0 10 10
College OC 1 0 1 4 6
College Position 0 0 0 3 3
Non-coach College 0 0 0 3 3
HC 1 0 0 21 22
AHC 0 0 0 5 5
OC 4 0 0 48 52
OL Coach 0 0 0 13 13
QB 1 0 0 67 68
RB Coach 7 0 0 3 10
WR Coach 5 0 0 8 13
TE Coach 0 0 0 14 14
NFL Other 1 0 0 6 7
HC Other Pro 0 0 0 2 2
Retired 0 0 0 1 1
Unemployed 1 0 0 2 3
Total 21 0 1 210 231

Note. Unless otherwise specified coaching positions are in the National Football League; HC = Head Coach; OC = Offensive Coordinator; AHC = Assistant Head Coach; OL = Offensive Line; QB = Quarterback; RB = Running Back; WR = Wide Receiver; TE = Tight End; Other Pro = other professional league.

  • It is not surprising that most White head coaches come from offensive coordinator backgrounds. There are ten times as many White coaches hired into offensive coordinator positions than there are African American coaches.
  • There are no Latino offensive coordinators hired in this timeframe.
  • There is a Chinese American offensive coordinator hired – the only Chinese American in any coaching position.
  • Most OCs come from quarterback coaching.
  • 67 out of the 68 QB coaches who become OCs were White.
  • Given that the quarterback position itself has historically been given to White players, and the recent relative influx of African Americans playing quarterback in the NFL (Faller, 2020), it begs the question, “Will the future offer a more robust player pathway to the offensive side of coaching?”
  • Compared to offensive coordinators of Color, White offensive coordinators come from more varied playing and coaching experience and have a greater variety of next coaching opportunities.

Defensive Coordinators – The Common Pathway

This figure shows the role held by NFL Defensive Coordinators immediately prior to their new hire.

Immediate Previously Held Position of Incoming Defensive Coordinators by Race/Ethnicity for 2002-03 – 2019-20
Race/Ethnicity
Prior Position African American Latino Arab American White Total
College AHC 0 0 0 1 1
College DC 0 0 0 3 3
College Position 0 0 0 1 1
HC 8 0 0 17 25
AHC 2 0 0 1 3
DC 13 0 0 35 48
DL Coach 5 0 0 8 13
LB Coach 6 2 1 51 60
DB Coach 15 0 0 10 25
DE Coach 0 0 0 1 1
CB Coach 0 0 0 1 1
TE Coach 0 0 0 1 1
OL Coach 0 1 0 0 1
NFL Other 6 0 0 12 18
HC Other Pro 0 0 0 1 1
DC Other Pro 0 0 0 1 1
Media 0 0 0 1 1
Retired 1 0 0 0 1
Unemployed 0 0 0 2 2
Total 56 3 1 147 207

Note. Unless otherwise specified coaching positions are in the National Football League; HC = Head Coach; AHC = Assistant Head Coach; DC = Defensive Coordinator; DL = Defensive Line; LB = Linebacker; DB = Defensive Back; DE = Defensive End; CB = Cornerback; TE = Tight End; OL = Offensive Line; NFL = National Football League; Other = non-coaching position; Other Pro = other professional league.

  • There are some difference seen between the offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator pathways.
  • The racial/ethnic composition of NFL defensive coordinators is more diverse than the offensive coordinator hires.
  • This is not a surprising finding given that most head coaches of Color come from a defensive coordinator background, including the one and only Arab American coach.
  • There is a prior position occupied by an incoming defensive coordinator of Color that is not occupied by a White defensive coordinator, something not observed in either head coach or offensive coordinator prior positions.
  • Most African American defensive coordinators are previously defensive back coaches and outnumber White defensive coordinators from this position.
  • The pathway from linebacker coach to defensive coordinator is the lone example of a pathway shared by coaches from four different racial/ethnic backgrounds; African American, Arab American, Latino, and White.
  • There is a correlation between race/ethnicity and tenure as defensive coordinator However, when further explored the race/ethnicity does not significantly predict tenure with the team (small sample size, it approached significance and should be examined with a larger sample size).
  • White defensive coordinators come from a wider range of playing levels, a wider range of coaching experiences, and enjoy a wider variety of future opportunities.

Continuing Pathway – Next Opportunity for Head Coaches by Race/Ethnicity for 2002-03 – 2019-20

This figure displays the “next” jobs for head coaches who have exited a team. Outgoing* head coaches of Color most often became NFL defensive coordinators (25%), were employed by the media or were unemployed. Outgoing White head coaches most often became NFL offensive coordinators (21/94), NFL defensive coordinators (14/94), head coaches of other NFL teams (10/94) or head coaches of college teams (10/94).

*Outgoing NFL Coaches may have been fired and/or vacated the position for a variety of reasons.

Next Opportunity for Head Coaches by Race/Ethnicity for 2002-03 – 2019-20
Race/Ethnicity
Next Position African American Latino White Total
Head Coach 1 1 10 12
Assistant HC 0 0 4 4
DB Coach 1 0 1 2
DC 5 0 14 19
DL Coach 0 0 1 1
DA Coach 0 0 1 1
LB Coach 1 0 1 2
TE Coach 0 0 3 3
OC 1 0 21 22
OL Coach 0 0 2 2
ST Coach 1 0 0 1
QB Coach 1 0 1 2
NFL Executive 0 0 2 2
NFL Other 1 0 5 6
College HC 1 0 10 11
College DC 0 0 1 1
College Other 1 0 0 1
Media 3 0 7 10
Retired 0 0 3 3
Unemployed 3 0 7 8
Total 20 1 94 115

Note. Unless otherwise specified coaching positions are in the National Football League; HC = Head Coach; DB = Defensive Back; DC = Defensive Coordinator; DL = Defensive Line; DA = Defensive Assistant; LB = Linebacker; TE = Tight End; OC = Offensive Coordinator; OL = Offensive Line; ST = Special Teams; QB = Quarterback; NFL = National Football League.


Continuing Pathway – Next Opportunity for Offensive Coordinators by Race/Ethnicity for 2002-03 – 2019-20

This figure displays the “next” jobs for offensive coordinators who have exited a team. Outgoing* offensive coordinators of Color most often became NFL position coaches (5/22), NFL head coaches (3/22), NFL Running Backs coaches (3/22) or unemployed. Outgoing White offensive coordinators most often became offensive coordinators of other NFL teams (41/205), head coaches of other NFL teams (35/205), and position coaches of other NFL teams (30/205).

*Outgoing NFL Coaches may have been fired and/or vacated the position for a variety of reasons.

Next Opportunity for Offensive Coordinators by Race/Ethnicity for 2002-03 – 2019-20
Race/Ethnicity
Next Position African American Chinese American White Total
HC 3 0 35 38
AHC 0 0 4 4
OC 2 0 41 43
OL 0 0 8 8
QB 1 0 10 11
WR 2 0 3 5
TE 0 0 6 6
RB 3 0 0 3
NFL Position 5 0 30 35
NFL Other 1 0 14 15
College HC 0 0 8 8
College OC 0 1 6 7
College Position 0 0 1 1
Non-Coach College 0 0 1 1
HC Other Pro 0 0 2 2
Other Pro Coach 0 0 1 1
Media 0 0 1 1
Retired 2 0 7 9
Unemployed 3 0 26 29
Other 0 0 1 1
Total 22 1 205 228

Note. Unless otherwise specified coaching positions are in the National Football League; HC = Head Coach; AHC = Assistant Head Coach; OC = Offensive Coordinator; OL = Offensive Line; QB = Quarterback; WR = Wide Receiver; TE = Tight End; RB = Running Back; NFL = National Football League; Other Pro = other professional league.


Continuing Pathway – Next Opportunity for Defensive Coordinators by Race/Ethnicity for 2002-03 – 2019-20

This figure displays “next” jobs for defensive coordinators who have exited a team.

More African American defensive coordinators moved into head coaching positions within the NFL immediately after leaving their defensive coordinator position compared to those leaving offensive coordinator positions. This pattern was evident in the head coaching pipeline data as well. The largest number of African American defensive coordinators went to other NFL defensive coordinator positions or became NFL position coaches. These were the same patterns for White defensive coordinators and at similar proportions.

*Outgoing NFL Coaches may have been fired and/or vacated the position for a variety of reasons.

Next Opportunity for Defensive Coordinators by Race/Ethnicity for 2002-03 – 2019-20
Race/Ethnicity
Prior Position African American Latino White Total
College HC 0 0 3 3
College DC 0 0 5 5
College Position 1 0 1 2
College Other 1 0 4 5
HC 9 1 23 33
AHC 2 0 6 8
Interim HC 1 0 0 1
DC 16 0 33 49
DL Coach 0 0 1 1
NFL Position 15 2 32 49
NFL Other 6 0 14 20
DC Other Pro 0 0 1 1
Non-Coach Other Pro 0 0 1 1
Retired 1 0 5 6
Unemployed 7 0 15 22
Total 59 3 144 206

Note. Unless otherwise specified coaching positions are in the National Football League; HC = Head Coach; DC = Defensive Coordinator; AHC = Assistant Head Coach; DL = Defensive Line; NFL = National Football League; Other Pro = other professional league.


Racial Breakdown of NFL Offensive Coordinators – 2002 vs. 2020

These figures show Newly Hired NFL offensive coordinators broken down by race in total number. In 2002-03 out of the eight open positions there were three African American offensive coordinators hired and four (one was left unfilled) White offensive coordinators hired. At the end of 2020 out of 12 hires there was one African American offensive coordinator hired and 11 White offensive coordinators hired.

OC Hiring comparison


Racial Breakdown of NFL Defensive Coordinators – 2002 vs. 2020

These figures show NFL newly hired Defensive Coordinators broken down by race in total number. In 2002-03 there were 3/8 African American DCs hired and 5/8 White DCs hired. In 2019-20 there were 4/14 African American DCs hired and 10/14 White DCs hired.

DC Hiring comparison


The Firing and Hiring of NFL Offensive Coordinators and Defensive Coordinators of Color

This figure shows the percentage of OCs hired by race/ethnicity from the 2002-03 through the 2019-20 seasons.

This figure shows the percentage of DCs hired by race/ethnicity from the 2002-03 through the 2019-20 seasons.


Racial Breakdown of New-Hire NFL Offensive Coordinators and Defensive Coordinators

This figure reflects the newly-hired offensive coordinators per season broken down by race.

Incoming Offensive Coordinators by Race/Ethnicity for 2002-03 – 2019-20
Race/Ethnicity
Season Ending African American Latino Chinese American White Unfilled Total
2003 3 0 0 4 1 8
2004 3 0 0 8 0 11
2005 1 0 1 11 1 14
2006 0 0 0 14 0 14
2007 2 0 0 12 1 15
2008 1 0 0 10 0 11
2009 1 0 0 8 4 13
2010 2 0 0 8 0 10
2011 0 0 0 10 2 12
2012 0 0 0 17 0 17
2013 2 0 0 12 0 14
2014 1 0 0 12 0 13
2015 1 0 0 15 0 16
2016 3 0 0 10 0 13
2017 0 0 0 12 0 12
2018 0 0 0 21 0 21
2019 1 0 0 15 0 16
2020 0 0 0 11 1 12
Total 21 0 1 210 10 242

This figure reflects the hired Defensive Coordinators per season broken down by race.

Incoming Defensive Coordinators by Race/Ethnicity for 2002-03 – 2019-20
Race/Ethnicity
Season Ending African American Arab American Latino White Unfilled Total
2003 3 0 0 5 0 8
2004 3 0 1 11 0 15
2005 0 0 0 7 0 7
2006 3 0 0 8 0 11
2007 3 0 0 6 0 9
2008 2 0 0 4 0 6
2009 3 0 1 17 1 22
2010 4 0 0 6 0 10
2011 2 0 1 11 0 14
2012 1 0 0 12 0 13
2013 5 0 0 7 0 12
2014 5 0 0 5 0 10
2015 3 0 0 11 0 14
2016 2 0 0 6 0 8
2017 4 1 0 6 0 11
2018 5 0 0 9 0 14
2019 4 0 0 6 0 10
2020 4 0 0 10 0 14
Total 56 1 3 147 1 208

Diversity in Head Coach Hiring by NFL Teams

This chart shows each NFL team’s record of hiring head coaches of Color within their franchise history in the modern NFL era. Twelve (37.5%) of the teams in the league have never hired a coach of Color.

Anomalies Interim coaches of Color Teams Coaches of Color
Arizona Cardinals Dennis Green 2004-06 Steve Wilks 2018
interim Emmit Thomas 2007 Atlanta Falcons
John Harbaugh 2008-present, 13 seasons Baltimore Ravens
interim Perry Fewell 2009, Anthony Lynn 2016 Buffalo Bills
Carolina Panthers Ron Rivera 2011-19
Chicago Bears Lovie Smith 2004-12
Cincinnati Bengals Marvin Lewis 2003-18
interim Terry Robiskie 2004 Cleveland Browns Romeo Crennel 2005-08 Hue Jackson 2016-18
Jason Garrett 2011-present, 10 seasons Dallas Cowboys
Denver Broncos Vance Joseph 2017-18
Detroit Lions Jim Caldwell 2014-17
Green Bay Packers Ray Rhodes 1999
interim Romeo Crennel 2020 Houston Texans
Indianapolis Colts Tony Dungy 2002-08 Jim Caldwell 2009-11
interim Mel Tucker 2011 Jacksonville Jaguars
interim Romeo Crennel 2011 Kansas City Chiefs Herm Edwards 2006-08 Romeo Crennel 2011-12
Los Angeles Chargers Anthony Lynn 2017-present
Los Angeles Rams
interim Todd Bowles 2011 Miami Dolphins Brian Flores 2019-present
Minnesota Vikings Dennis Green 1992-01 Leslie Frazier 2011-13
Bill Belichick 2000-present, 21 seasons New England Patriots
Sean Payton 2006-present New Orleans Saints
New York Giants
New York Jets Herm Edwards 2001-05 Todd Bowles 2015-18
Oakland Raiders Tom Flores 1979-87 Art Shell 1989-94, 2006 Hue Jackson 2011
Philadelphia Eagles Ray Rhodes 1995-98
Pittsburgh Steelers Mike Tomlin 2007-present
interim Mike Singletary 2008 San Francisco 49ers Mike Singletary 2009-10
Seattle Seahawks Tom Flores 1992-94
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Tony Dungy 1996-01 Raheem Morris 2009-11 Lovie Smith 2014-15
Tennessee Titans
interim Terry Robiskie 2000 Washington Football Team Ron Rivera 2020-present

Teams that have never hired a head coach of Color (*denotes having an interim coach of Color):

  • Atlanta Falcons*
  • Baltimore Ravens
  • Buffalo Bills*
  • Dallas Cowboys
  • Houston Texans*
  • Jacksonville Jaguars*
  • Los Angeles Rams
  • New England Patriots
  • New Orleans Saints
  • New York Giants
  • Tennessee Titans

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